Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. How can she not be? She has a financial jaurguranaut behind her, the establishment supports her and she has crossover appeal with Independents and Moderates. Enter Bernie Sanders.
The eccentric Senator from Vermont has largely turned conventional wisdom on its head. Since he entered the race last year he has led in New Hampshire consistently. Most analysts simply chalk this up to his geographic proximity to the state and the more liberal electorate in the state compared to Iowa. Except a spate of recent polls out of Iowa now show the Senator either statistically tied or ahead of the First Lady.
This inevitably leads to the question of whether Sanders can actually compete with Hillary? I unequivocally say yes. I’m skeptical Bernie can win Iowa but recent polls are saying he can and if true it opens up a path to the nomination for the 75 year old.
Sanders has been plagued by the same problem that has hindered Trump’s support; electability. It has taken time but many Republicans now believe Trump is electable (a sign of his strength among even GOP voters who won’t support him). Sanders has not led consistently in national polls like Trump. This has meant he has yet to convince the party he is electable.
But assume for a moment that Bernie does win Iowa. He goes onto New Hampshire and wins there. He hits Nevada and South Carolina at full steam. It has long been assumed that Hillary’s lock on the party’s diverse base of young, single women and minorities is unbreakable. But that assumption would be put to the test after two straight losses.
Indeed, in Iowa, the assumption was that Hillary’s lock on women would ensure her a solid victory in the state. Yet, in the latest DMR survey the poll finds not just the two statistically tied but Sanders actually winning women under 45. You know, Hillary’s bread and butter voters who favor abortion, gay marriage and are driven by issues of gender equality.
Flashback to 2008 and Hillary led in almost every poll out of the state up to the Caucus. But then Obama won and Edwards surprised her. That started the Clinton campaign’s death spiral. Suddenly Obama became an electable alternative to Clinton and key parts of her coalition started to peel off to Obama (single women and men, urbanites, blacks and asians). Combined with a superior ground game the Obama machine utterly destroyed Clinton.
In 2008 it seemed blacks, Asians and women needed a reason to abandon Clinton and Obama’s victory in Iowa gave them that. A Sanders win in Iowa and New Hampshire could have the same impact. Suddenly, Clinton’s support among minorities might dissipate just like 2008 and give Sanders an in in Nevada, South Carolina and future states.
Sanders would likely need this to happen. Many Democratic states up after Nevada and South Carolina are in the heavily black Democratic South. This supposedly means that Clinton has a firewall to fall back on except it assumes voters will not have gotten a green light from earlier votes to vote for Sanders.
The messages both candidates use matters. Sanders focus on class is not the same message based on shared grievances that unites the Obama coalition. But, it does unite the largely white Iowa and New Hampshire electorates. Indeed, Nate Silver sees Sanders strength in Iowa and New Hampshire largely as a result of the white electorates that dominate both states.
This probably has a lot to do with it. But, again, remember that Obama did not break out until after his Iowa win (in the states or nationally). That could be the case for Sanders. He will need it though.
Sanders path to the nomination runs through the heavily black South and the diverse West and East Coast. Sure, he can bring out the crowds in big cities like Portland and Seattle (mostly white) but he needs to expand that coalition. He’s done so in Iowa but until polls show he is doing it among non-white Democrats he still is a long shot for the nomination.
To be fair though, not many polls have been taken outside of the first four states. So the only thing to go off beyond the first voting states is national polls. They may be a good barometer of the race right now but if all these voters need is for Sanders to rack up two W’s to start to seriously consider Sanders it could spell trouble for Clinton.